My Journey From Student To Professional Life – Interview By Discover Pakistan – Omar Farooq CEO Interwood

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nisma ameer and omar farooq

During my interview with “Discover Pakistan”, I shared my journey from being a student who had faced immense challenges when studying abroad to becoming a successful CEO of a renowned furniture store. During my studies, I decided that I’ll pursue my father’s business, i.e., furniture but at that time I didn’t know anything about furniture. After graduation from GC, I went abroad to the UK to get my degree in furniture where I faced immense challenges but I also learnt a lot.

Before joining this field, I wasn’t aware which area line should I pursue but I decided that I’ll join my father’s business with the passion that I will take it to a next level. My educational struggles helped me in my professional life.

In this blog, you will get to know about my journey from being young to a competent CEO of a well-known furniture store.  

How did the venture of Interwood start and how did it come into existence?

In 1974, my father started Interwood and it was a small company, we used to do contractual work back then and didn’t have retail at that time. And then gradually we grew because my father thought to invest in technology as he was thinking far ahead of time. It was not an industry but carpentry based even at that time when I joined, with a little blend of industrialization. So, it was very basic till 1995 with the contractual jobs but then we gradually grew towards automation and in 2002, we really decided to go into retail, that’s where everything turned around.

What was your role in the evolution of Interwood and how did you add value to the entire process?

Interwood evolved over time and it wasn’t only me who contributed but it was the combined effort of me, my father and siblings because it’s always teamwork. With a market of almost 1 trillion for Interwood only, we progressed and I truly believe if you can provide supply, you can do anything, and presently we don’t have a demand issue, but it’s the supply issue.

Was the vision of your brand for keeping affordability with contemporary designs that caters everyone’s demand, emerged from the start or it evolved over time?

Basically, we evolved over time and initially, we were an expensive brand because we do everything in a structured way. So, when I joined this business in 1995, we used to manufacture 1 door probably in 45 days and now we can manufacture 200 doors a day. And, we have almost the same pricing today which was in 1995, despite of the fact that inflation has gone too high. So, when we started investing, we assured affordability.

Being passionate about investing in technology and innovation and keeping sustainability in mind, have you introduced any affordable material for your clientele?

15 years ago, we got aware that we won’t use local materials like cutting wood because of deforestation and all. So, we started importing from our sustainable forest trees and started using the imported wood and then, we also shifted to other materials like PVC, upholstery, metal with robotic automation, and now we are investing in plastic heavily. For making cost-effective yet modern furniture, we are using a combination of upholstery, plastic, metal, wood etc.

Has Interwood been working on foldable, and user-friendly furniture as these are in trends?

Our whole office furniture is space-friendly, cost-effective, even now workstations have been introduced which takes small space, ensuring affordability. We have 5-6 packs of workstations, from lower staff to upper-end staff, so we have solutions for all.

Do you have any input in the design element as the products at Interwood has contemporary and beautiful designing or do you have a separate team?

No, as I head the organization, I only have a little input. The product team gives input to the R & D team, and R & D itself has the concepts. So, they produce products that are cost-effective.

Given Interwood now has extensive network of branches all over the country with the diverse product range, so how do you make sure about quality control and standardization, even when it comes to client management?

It’s very challenging even today but we’re dealing with it. For quality control, we have a head, whom we inspect at the end and then we do an incoming inspection from quality audits to insulation. So, we have complete checks and balances.

With so many challenges and so much on your shoulders, things must get stressful. So, how do you keep yourself going and motivated?

I used to go to the gym at 6 am and used to keep myself motivated that way but from the time of Covid, my routine got changed and I started walking in my colony and kept myself self-motivated. For me, every day is a new day and I take the challenge as it comes.

What is the potential of furniture industry in foreign exchange that we can augment through our exports?

China has almost exports of $50 billion to the US which is the biggest for furniture in the world, then Vietnam has $1 billion, and I think our total exports are $25-26 billion. So, we have huge potential in terms of opportunities we have with us because we have a lot of labour. No matter how much you get automation, it still needs a hand but unfortunately, we do not have skills as the new generation is least interested in this industry. Our government need to make strategies for how to develop these skills, and some furniture clusters need to be taught with proper international standards.

What role can government play to augment the industry and which measures should they take for the betterment of this industry?

Our government needs to work on skills, develop infrastructure, and hire foreign consultants to meet international standards. Also, there need to be open design and production schools for proper management training, and even govt. should hire foreign teachers like Germans etc. for master training. There’s a need to develop courses from them, and then teach the students at the international level.

Given that Interwood has become a huge retail brand and there’s a huge marketing role as we’ve seen the evolution of social media. So, in your opinion has it played any role in making Interwood a huge retail brand?

Yes, because almost 30% of traffic derives from social media, 50% is from our brand awareness, and the rest is miscellaneous. So yes, social media has played a lot of impacts.

Please tell us about international presence that Interwood has or any specific country-wise clients?

As we are local-based manufacturers, and we have local-based sales, so 95% of our sales are local, 3-5% are exported to the US. Also, we’ve worked in Congo, built the parliament of Maldives, so off and on we do contractual work. More contracts are coming from the USA, for the ones who want high-end non-standard work, and we’re shipping to them.

How does a normal day in office look for you and how is your leadership style like?

In the first part I take a round of production, I’ve 4-5 people (Production head, supply chain head, HR and quality head) and I take a round of the whole factory which is of about 1.5 hours. Then I have a meeting with finance and then I have an easy day and after that, I’m free to think whatever I want to like following things. Then I go home at 5-5:30 pm, reach home 6:15-6:30 pm and do my exercise. At 9:30, I’m off to bed.

I’ve a statement:

“Maturity = Focus + Discipline = Success”

Are there any women employee at your office and what is the scope of women in this field as furniture is normally associated with men?

I’m actually a big fan of women as they are very focused, and organized, and our R & D department has almost all the women working. Even most of the workforce, in the upholstery section also, have women who are working there and I’m really thinking for employing 30-40% women as they don’t waste time and are very disciplined. The secret of China’s progress is due to its women, and I think they have contributed more to the economy than men.

What is your take on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and how Interwood is contributing its part?

Recently, we’ve started a CSR activity where we provide seeds to our customers to plant trees, and we also keep on investing in education. I’ve also established a vocational type school in a carpentry factory with a desk on, where I’ve provided them with a carpentry course and I also trained their teacher as well. I want to replicate this all over Pakistan but unfortunately, people are not coming to this side as the kids are somehow not really interested in this field.

Who has been your inspiration or a role model in your professional or personal life?

My all inspiration has come from my father. I’ve learnt from everybody at this organization as the core objective that it focuses on learning. But I’ve been inspired by my father.

Do you ever go through anger issues, if so, then how do you deal with it?

I get angry every day whenever I go to the production but in the last 5 years, I’ve narrowed down this anger issue by motivating those people. Allah has blessed me with a lot of patience; I’ve gone through so many rough times, so now I’ve controlled my anger issue.

What is your favorite tourist destination in Pakistan and internationally?

In Pakistan, Skardu is my favourite destination, I’ve been there, it’s amazing, I just love it. I’ve visited China and Germany so many times but I think Barcelona is the best place.

Are you fond of reading books and if so, then recommend a book to the audience?

I really don’t read books but one book I read and listen to every day is Quran, so I can only recommend that. I can only read articles, news etc. but I can’t read a book.

What your journey has taught you from young age till now?

The journey taught me that whenever you fall, don’t get anxious, learn from your failures and rise up. Don’t get defensive about it and don’t hide your mistakes. Correct your mistakes and move on.

Any message you want to give to the young generation who are studying or about to start their professional life?

Think about the ideas, and think out of the box. Challenge the status quo, create your original ideas, and innovation. This is where you become very special.

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